We have grown used to evidence sessions to various Parliamentary committees becoming a succession of sound-bites and battlegrounds but the latest one that took place on Wednesday 9th December is worth a watch if you are curious to learn more about the superfast broadband roll-outs that are using public money or simpler after more facts to support what you believe is right or wrong with the whole process.
The session had just Sean Williams, Group Director Strategy, Policy and Portfolio, BT Group and Kim Mears, Managing Director Infrastructure Delivery, Openreach answering questions from the members of the committee with the second half of the meeting turned over to a grilling of Chris Townsend who is the Chief Executive of BDUK along with Andrew Field who is the Superfast Broadband Programme Director BDUK.
Based on the questions the committee asked many of the issues are the same as prominent commentators make here and elsewhere, so what is new or at least now on the record rather than hearsay. We now know that for every ten percentage points of take-up the clawback mechanism will payback £129m and when combined with the underspend so far that has been identified of some £150m so far it is believed that phase 1 and phase2 will take superfast coverage to around 96% of UK premises and BDUK is putting pressure on the commercial operators and BT ensure that slow parts of the urban UK see more commercial investment and this should take superfast coverage to 97%.
Chris Townsend emphasised that a key benefit from the existing phase 1 contracts has been the speed of delivery and that a lot has been done in a short time frame and he confirmed that where premises don't get 24 Mbps even if FTTC is theoretically available BT will not get paid for delivering FTTC to that premise.
For the final 3%, there is the USO (Universal Service Obligation) which should get thrashed out during 2016, but we would add that what happens with Openreach and the BT Group may have an impact there. Fingers cross the new Investment Fund that will also help to encourage more smaller operators to build superfast and ultrafast networks in the final 3%.
For those living in areas like Devon and Somerset the CDS project was discussed and the successful suppliers meeting day that involved a large number of suppliers (including BT) means things are moving. One key change is that rather than one large contract for the area like in phase 1 we are looking at something like seven smaller contracts to help favour smaller operators. Extrapolating the names of people we have heard attending we might see something like Gigaclear chasing North Somerset areas and Relish looking to extend south and west from Swindon, certainly there is no consensus on the technology and this will make it very interesting in the years after the contract has been delivered.